Thursday, September 2, 2010

Macon County Planning Board Not Allowing Residents Freedom Of Speech As Guaranteed by the Constitution

Macon County Planning Board Not Allowing Residents Freedom Of Speech As Guaranteed by the Constitution

Yep folks it's the same group still trying to desecrate the Iotla Site, that is sacred to the Cherokee as an ancient village site with burials..
Now they want to deny the citizens of Macon County, North Carolina the right to speak in a public forum concerning events that will effect the citizens. Want to write or call them afetr you read this? Here's the website with names and phone numbers, email, snail mail address, etc.

Residents should be allowed to speak
Thursday, 02 September 2010
Does the Macon County Planning Board want to discuss a proposed “Steep Slope Ordinance” with county residents? Not from what I have observed.

I attended the Planning Board meeting held on Aug. 19, 2010, at the Oakdale Baptist Church in the Burningtown community. There wasn’t even a quorum of the Planning Board present.

This was the fourth in a series of Planning Board meetings being held in communities around the county to discuss the “Steep Slope Ordinance” proposal, and to allow residents to provide input on the proposal to the Planning Board.

The Planning Board has apparently instituted a new policy that will allow a resident a maximum of three minutes to provide comments during this process. If a resident attends more than one of the Planning Board meetings, the resident is only allowed to comment at ONE of those meetings.

Only one resident was allowed to speak at the meeting I attended, so there was no reasonable reason to restrict resident comments.

In addition, there was no question and answer period between the Planning Board and residents at this meeting.

Is this lack of discussion with county government what residents should expect when the content of a “Steep Slope Ordinance” is being considered? Especially since the proposed ordinance could have a significant negative impact on the county’s construction and real estate businesses, as well as on property values and taxes.

I spoke to the Macon County Board of Commissioners during the public comment period at their Aug. 23rd meeting to report this lack of discussion between residents and the Planning Board at the Burningtown meeting. I requested the Commissioners ask the Planning Board to allow more discussion on the proposal. My request was met with complete silence from the Board.

So Planning Board, will you revise your new policies that are limiting resident discussion? You might get some good ideas from us and answer some important questions we might have.

Vic Drummond
Franklin, N.C.

County Planning Board Restricting Public Speech
Thursday, 02 September 2010
Commentary submitted by Bill Vernon

Macon County, you have NO idea what is headed your way with the proposed steep slope ordinance or how your Planning Board is operating. You hear all the “happy talk,” traveling to all communities for public input, transparency, openness etc. Well get this!

As a Burningtown resident and member of “Property Owners of” (POA), a group opposed to the current steep slope draft but NOT opposed to “reasonable” regulations, I was charged with distributing and explaining a 4-page, POA created flyer at the Planning Board meeting in Burningtown on Aug. 19.

We created and wanted to discuss a reasonable solution to the steep slope, issue via this four-page flyer. It also outlined the problems with the current proposal featuring an actual engineering quote proving that the proposed geological testing could cost a person wanting to build on a 22 degree or greater slope in excess of $25,000.00! This was only one of several SERIOUS issues.

With olive branch in hand, I went to sign up to speak. At the top of the sign-in sheet was a statement something like: “If you have spoken out previously on steep slope, you are not allowed to speak again.” Chairman Lewis Penland also verbally related that point, then cautioned Board members NOT to engage or get into a debate with speakers no matter how hard it may be to resist. Since I spoke in May, I was prohibited from speaking again. So were several others who had spoken previously. WOW!

Tom Riles was allowed to speak but only after Penland grilled him as to whether he had spoken before. The Board discussed among themselves if they should allow Tom to speak.

After careful discussion they allowed his comments. Everyone in attendance was appalled at the disturbing actions of the Planning Board. It is difficult to engage in a one way conversation. These actions indicate that they are not really interested in public comments despite the “happy talk.”

Steep slope must now become an election issue. I call on ALL of the Commissioners and Candidates to come forward (editorials are free) and give the public a straight YES or NO. Do you support steep slope or not? If you do, please answer the ongoing question: why do we need it?

Keep in mind, by their own admission, steep slope WILL NOT prevent another Peeks Creek. We’ve asked multiple times but continue to be ignored: Show us the problem? Show us the people being killed or injured. Show us the homes sliding off the mountains. Show us why we should add tens of thousands to construction costs greatly expand local government and ask taxpayers to pay for it. Remember, taxpayers just got a 6% increase in property taxes this year. THANKS!

Wal-Mart often adversely affects community
Thursday, 26 August 2010
The standing-room-only Aug. 2 public hearing of the Franklin Town Board of Aldermen regarding the development of a Wal-Mart Supercenter was an object lesson in how politics trumps reason at every turn. It’s bad enough when partisan politics and posturing rear their ugly heads in Washington, but when it shows up on our own doorstep then it’s time for local government officials to take a good hard look in the mirror. Hopefully, they can see their reflection.

If news reports covering the hearing are accurate, what transpired that evening was nothing more than a preordained exercise in folly starting with Mayor Joe Collins condescendingly grabbing a Bible to remind the congregation that their opinions on the subject were irrelevant. If Elmer Gantry had been in the audience, his smile would have lit up the room.

Add to the general silliness the fact that Alderman Bob Scott was forced to recuse himself from the proceedings because he, perish the thought, conducted a survey on the issue to gauge the public’s feelings on the matter. How’s that for a footprint, Mr. Scott?

Then came another big surprise when real estate developer, Marty Kimsey, spoke in favor of the project using the hackneyed argument that somehow a Super Walmart will magically help ease the job woes of the local citizenry. Mr. Kimsey’s insinuation that a “bottom line” of economic despair may ensue if the project is rejected was nothing more than fearmongering, a tactic no doubt appreciated by the Wal-Mart developers sitting nearby. Sorry Mr. Kimsey, but the only bottom line in this equation is Wal-Mart’s share price on the Stock Exchange.

But let’s not point fingers at our hard-working aldermen who voted unanimously to approve the special use permit despite a chorus of public opposition during the meeting. Instead, let’s examine some well-established, indisputable facts about the impact Wal-Mart makes on small communities like Franklin.

First, Wal-Mart does not lead to net retail job creation. A 2007 study found that Wal-Mart store openings reduce retail employment in a county by 2.7 percent. Second, small businesses are particularly hurt by Wal-Mart’s entry causing “a substantial reduction in net employment growth at smaller retailers…” according to a 2009 study by the U.S. Census Bureau Center for Economic Studies.

Third, Wal-Mart stores generate a significant amount of traffic congestion. In fact, the average-size Wal-Mart Supercenter will generate nearly 10,000 car trips per day. Fourth, Wal-Mart abandons stores throughout the country. Wal-Mart’s own realty website lists almost 200 abandoned stores. This doesn’t include stores owned by independent developers. Abandoned stores and vast parking lots are a haven for crime and vandalism.

Finally, Wal-Mart doesn’t really care what our community thinks. To quote founder Sam Walton responding to the assertion that the company would not build stores in towns if the residents did not want them: “Were that the case,” he said, “we’d never build a store anywhere.”

Franklin government officials have spent hours of taxpayer time trying to figure out how to make this area a “destination location.”

Why they foolishly believe a Super Wal-Mart will better enhance Franklin’s appeal for visitors is a mystery. What makes a destination desirable today is focusing on what makes it unique, not what makes it redundant. To use Mayor Collins’ expression, that’s a no-brainer. Too bad it’s a no-brainer he and the Franklin aldermen have failed to embrace.

Carol J. Ramsey
Franklin, N.C.

Steep Slope meetings a real conversation stopper
Thursday, 02 September 2010
Is the planning board open to discussion, or trying to silence alternative ideas?

By Davin Eldridge
Staff Writer

The Macon County Planning Board maintains that their process of developing a slope ordinance is open for public input, and that is the purpose for dozens of meetings that have been held in every community across the county. But some citizens feel the Planning Board is now trying to silence any voices of dissent, and that discussion, rather than mere input, would be of greater benefit to the county.

Members of the public interested in speaking at last month’s meeting were asked to sign in before being allowed to comment. The sign-in sheet stipulated that anyone who had spoken at a previous meeting would be barred from speaking again on the topic. According to board members, the waiver was their way of ensuring that every county resident got a chance to speak.

But local excavator Tom Riles, who was the only county resident to speak at last month’s meeting, said he felt that the public input allowed by the board was too restrictive. “It’s not really a community discussion that you are getting. It’s just that you’re allowed to speak and that’s it,” he said. “If someone else brings up something else you want to comment on you don’t really get the chance to comment. It’s not a discussion, it’s just ‘you have your say and then sit down and be quiet.’”

Some citizens did not even speak at the meeting due to the restricting public input policy. Vic Drummond— who is currently running for County Commissioner— was the only other person to sign up to speak at the most recent meeting. He decided to wait until a later date, since it would preclude him from speaking again when more members of the board are present. “There was not even a quorum of the board there at the meeting,” he said. “Why should I go ahead and make some presentation when half the people aren’t even there?”

Drummond also said that he found the level of public input allowed at a slope meeting to be too restrictive. “To me, this is a very complex issue that is facing the county. I don’t see that any particular person in three minutes could necessarily cover all of the issues that are facing us with steep slope. I thought there would be some give and take. There was absolutely nothing.”

County Planner Derek Roland said after last month’s meeting that the Board wanted to avoid rehashing past topics. “We asked that they not sign up to speak again unless they have something new to add to the discussion rather than just saying ‘don’t do it, it’s not good.’”

Bill Vernon, a developer and resident of Franklin, is among those who feel that the opinions of the general public don’t count to the board. He says the county is pursuing its own agenda, even though certain slope ordinance recommendations may be detrimental to the county and its economy. Vernon was not allowed to speak at last month’s slope meeting held in Burningtown, because he had already spoken at a previous meeting. “A discussion means an open exchange of ideas,” he said. “A back and forth. Yes, people will get emotional on both sides, but it would be an actual discussion.”

Vernon says that he has attempted to ask the board numerous questions regarding their recommendations, all of which have been muted. He has challenged the planning board to explain how a slope ordinance would prevent slope failure, and has questioned the need for the ordinance, considering the few instances of slope failure.

Vernon, along with several others, has asked the board to justify the additional costs for future potential land development due to ordinance regulations, and to show the public how proposed regulations would benefit public health and safety. Yet, Vernon says, the board has refused to discuss these issues and instead implemented the waiver barring anyone from commenting or asking questions more than once.

Vernon has worked in land development in the area for 14 years. He served on the first steep slope sub-committee four years ago, and has attended almost every planning board meeting concerning steep slope since the process began.

According to Vernon, the slope ordinance will affect anyone that owns private property in the county. Landowners looking to sell their property, and those who have land that falls into a regulated range of slope ordinance, would have a greater difficulty selling their parcel because of the costs involved in having a geotechnical engineer make an analysis.

But members of the planning board are suppressing any dissent to avoid these issues, claims Vernon.

“I guess they’re mad that we won’t let them hijack our meetings,” said Plannning Board Chairman Lewis Penland of those unhappy with the amount of input they are alotted. Penland suggested that those unhappy with the way planning board meetings are held should take it up with County Commissioners at their next meeting.

“As board members, we’re here to listen,” Penland said, adding that he felt last month’s meeting was a success. “If they bring something new to the table we will take the time to listen. I want everyone’s response. Our task was to come up with an ordinance if it’s needed. ”

“One grading contractor, Tom Riles, actually said one of the better things I’ve heard in a long time, that we need a common sense approach to it,” said Penland.

“Right now anyone can rent a piece of equipment and build a road,” said Riles after the meeting. “If it’s going to be on the 30 percent or greater slope, my recommendation was to have just licensed grading contractors develop it ... on an asneeded basis.”

“It prevents a lot of the amateur hour stuff,” remarked Penland of Riles’ suggestion of a “common sense approach.” Penland said that some projects will be taken on by a land developer who will go after a low bidding excavator, who may not be completely certified, and the job will ultimately be inefficiently done. “The way the system is set up now, you are rewarding incompetence.”

After the meeting, Roland said Riles’ input was exemplary. “That is a good example of a citizen that has taken home the ordinance, looked at it, and incorporated their input and gave the planning board something to think about,” he said after the meeting.

“The whole idea on this is to keep costs down and not bring in engineers unless they’re needed,” Riles continued, expressing his concern that a blanket rule would be made for all slope ranges. “I don’t think they should require anything unless there’s a problem.” Riles said that such a stipulation should be included in current building inspection codes rather than creating a county ordinance. “If we don’t keep costs down, people won’t build.”

Congressman Phil Haire said that a slope ordinance would benefit the county’s real estate market down the road. “To me it would be a tremendous selling point if I were a real estate agent,” he said. According to Haire, the issue of slope failure becomes a larger issue over time as new development occurs in the mountains. “Let’s face it, we in the mountains of Jackson County, Macon County, Swain County — wherever — there’s going to be more mountain top development.”

Regardless of costs, Penland asserted after the meeting that a slope ordinance is something mountain communities must face. “We can’t not do anything. This is an issue that is going to have to be addressed in some shape, form or fashion. I’d prefer people in Macon County decide what we do, not someone in Raleigh. That has happened in the past and it usually turns out to be a disaster.”

“How would somebody feel if they didn’t support a slope ordinance, and then say a year later someone builds a house, it slides off and someone gets killed,” asked Haire. “It’s a safety issue and an economic issue,” he said. Haire said he believes steep slope ordinances actually protect the real estate market in the long run. “You would have to take some further protective measures if you were building in a hazardous area. If you’re not building in one, then it doesn’t affect you a bit.”

Another county resident not in favor of establishing a new slope ordinance is Paul Higdon, who worked with the county health department for 10 years. “Where is the problem? Just because we have had a few slope failures, that doesn’t justify the need to regulate everything in Macon County.”

Higdon said that with every purchase, there is a certain amount of personal responsibility that comes along with the puchase. “I am concerned that this is going to affect the value of real estate and then at some point down the road lending agencies and insurance companies are going to look at your individual piece of property and say, ‘Hey, you’re in a high hazard area of potential slope failure and we’re either not going to carry your mortgage or your insurance rates will go up, because some government agency decided that you live in a hazard zone.’”

Penland adamantly stood by the need for a “safe slope” ordinance, as he advised it be called, by citing incidents of slope failure in Highlands, Maggie Valley and Peek’s Creek.

“An ordinance is no better than your ability to enforce it,” Higdon continued. “I could step out on my porch in the morning and a falling star could hit me in the head — that’s the inherent risk of living. Do we outlaw falling stars? How far do we carry this thing?”

Board members are confident in the public’s ability to provide input on the issue of slope ordinance. “We continue to encourage people to come out and discuss their thoughts on the slope issue,” said Penland. The planning board will meet again on Sept. 16 in Nantahala, location yet to be determined.

Read Drummond’s letter to the editor on the subject.

"Success is measured by happiness not wealth"

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